Thursday, December 22, 2005

It's the Little Things

I've been at the new job for about a month and a half and we've left work early as a company several times. The Christmas party was better than at my last two jobs--they actually paid for the food (with 2 drink coupons), they had somewhere under 10 free raffles for assorted prizes (I don't remember the exact number because in addition to my 2 drink coupons, I used my wife's coupons and bought a couple with cash), and they gave everyone a gift with the company logo on it. Today we had a free pizza lunch and tomorrow the owner has invited any employee to come by his wife's coffee shop in the morning for a free coffee and pastry.

Don't get me wrong, the my last job did in fact do things for its employees. It's just that, generally, when you are at a bigger company either the perk is smaller or a smaller number of people receive it (in fact the best perks I got were a couple of parties that were only for an office location or a particular team). When you get into 5,000+ person companies, I think you see that absolute dollar amount and balk. It doesn't matter what tiny percentage that is of your profits. If I'm giving everyone a $10 thermos with my logo on it, I'm out $50,000. That's real money. I could hire a professional ball washer for that kind of scratch. Or better yet, I could buy 10 XBox 360s and give them to the top contributors and save myself around $45,000. This of course leads to the awkward moment when nearly everyone at your company outside of those 10 people begins to feel under-appreciated.

This is where I think the individual manager should step in. They need (and usually have) the flexibility to handle perks at the local level. But this leads to all sorts of problems. Anywhere from "my manager's a selfish asshole" to "these incentives don't motivate people" to "Derrick's manager did more for his team than my manager did, so now they both must die." That's another major problem at a big company--it's us versus them, baby. If someone gets a new computer, you can bet everyone will be sniffing around and someone will want to know why that guy's computer has an additional 512 megs of RAM. It's like ants in a bowl--you don't need to put a lid on it because the ants will just keep dragging each other back down. That's just the momentum of bitterness and resentment in action. Couple that with the fact that every middle manager is too busy crapping his pants because either he's about the be "flattened" out of existence or be put in charge of a bunch of contractors halfway around the world, trying to manage people he can't see or talk to and the situation begins to look dire.

Look at that. I start by writing about the good things and here I am whipped into a frenzy about something I'm not currently dealing with. So, what's the solution? I don't know for sure. It's probably something like "treat your people fairly and the bottom line will take care of itself" or somesuch. Sounds easy and apparently that's what a lot of successful companies already do. Unfortunately, it takes a while to gain back the trust of your employees--turning this ship won't be easy, but ultimately I think it's worth it. That is if the stock holders and/or executives would let it happen.


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